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Home / Bollywood / When the North Koreans aren’t conducting nuclear tests, they’re watching films like Baahubali, Krrish

When the North Koreans aren’t conducting nuclear tests, they’re watching films like Baahubali, Krrish

The biannual Pyongyang International Film Festival has screened films like Baahubali, Krrish and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. We asked North Korea for more details.

bollywood Updated: Sep 06, 2017 12:09 IST
Rohan Naahar
Rohan Naahar
Hindustan Times
Hrithik Roshan’s Krrish and SS Rajamouli’s epic, Baahubali, were screened in North Korea.
Hrithik Roshan’s Krrish and SS Rajamouli’s epic, Baahubali, were screened in North Korea.

While they’re not celebrating ‘successful’ hydrogen bomb tests, North Koreans are apparently watching Bollywood hits like Bajirao Mastani and Krrish.

The Pyongyang International Film Festival, which celebrated its first year of existence in 1987, has had a long history of screening Indian films. Their website - which compiles a list of films screened at biannual event - mentions Ranbir Kapoor-starrer Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and Hrithik Roshan’s Krrish as having been screened at the 2014 edition (in the Informative Screening category), while Ranveer Singh, Deepika Padukone’s Ram Leela, and Sunny Deol’s Singh Saab the Great were screened in competition the same year.

“It is a very positive way of cultural engagement and showing North Korean citizens another view on the world,” Nicholas Bonner, a China-based filmmaker who helps “coordinate foreign films shown” at the festival told us through email. “The audiences love them,” he said.

The audience seems happy.
The audience seems happy. ( Pyongyang International Film Festival )

The 2016 edition included an even bigger slate of Indian films. The Tamil film, Kanavu Variyam; Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Ram Leela follow-up, Bajirao Mastani; Akshay Kumar’s Gabbar is Back; SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali: The Beginning and Kangana Ranaut’s ‘Many Weds Manu Return’ (Google translate flummoxed, perhaps) were screened in the Informative Screening category. However, the obscure film, Ramsingh Charlie was the only Indian addition to the competition lineup.

The festival would like to screen more Bollywood and ‘Malayalum’ films, Bonner said, “however it has been very difficult in finding a sales company interesting in supporting a small cinema (sic).”

It’s still unclear how these films are sourced.

Bonner identified himself as one of the co-directors of a film called Comrade Kim goes Flying, a film the Toronto International Film Festival declares the first “Western-financed fiction feature made entirely in North Korea”.

According to a New York Times article published in 2012, Bonner “steered (the North Korean writers) toward comedy and away from the more predictable propaganda line of triumph through hard work.”

For the longest time, though, the Pyongyang International Film Festival showed mostly propaganda films. The few international titles that passed the thorough screening process - films like Gurinder Chadha’s Bend it Like Beckham - were heavily censored to suit the insular North Korean tastes.

Like most outside media, films too are restricted in North Korea. And foreign films about North Korea are even less welcome. It was rumoured that the portrayal of their leader, Kim Jong-un, in the 2014 Seth Rogen comedy, The Interview (he died in a scene scored to a Katy Perry song), prompted hackers to steal thousands of confidential documents from Sony Pictures, the film’s home studio. Threats of a terror attack followed, which resulted in the film’s theatrical release being pulled. It was finally released via home video and on streaming.

There is no official data available on how many indigenous films are produced in North Korea. Some figures peg it to be around 80 films per year, but this was refuted by a BBC report, which noted that the 2000 edition of the festival screened just one home-made feature and one documentary.

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